HC Deb 02 December 1987 vol 123 cc918-9
6. Mr. Barron

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the cost of installing water meters in every household.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan)

There are no current plans to install water meters in every household. Ultimately it will be up to each water undertaker to decide whether investment in more widespread metering is worth while. The proposed compulsory metering trials will help to estimate the sorts of costs involved.

Mr. Barron

Given that in the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Bill the Minister has obviously decided that the initial costs will not fall solely on consumers, as money will come from central Government, will he assure us that if universal metering is adopted there will be central Government help so that the burden does not fall on the water consumers?

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. Gentleman raised two points. With regard to the latter, no water authority has proposals at present for universal metering. In response to his other point, he is correct to state that a proportion — approximately 50 per cent.—of the metering trial costs will be paid for by the Government. Spread across all customers in England and Wales, the metering trials will add approximately 5p a year for four years to the average householder's bill for water and sewerage. We hope that savings will offset that.

Mr. Forman

Would not the gradual introduction of metering into water charging be consistent with the general principle of charging that the Government are now extending to local government? Does my hon. Friend have any estimates of the relative advantages of adopting that route as opposed to the present route, which is based on rateable value?

Mr. Moynihan

The whole purpose of developing the specific compulsory metering trials is to identify across socio-economic groups the effect of water metering and how effective that would be as a basis for charging in future. My hon. Friend will agree that it is important that we await the outcome of the scientific evidence and detailed analysis of consumption figures based on the trials before we reach any specific assessment of future charging methods.

Mr. Morgan

Is the Minister fully aware that with gas and electricity — the nearest analogous industries to water—80 per cent. of the costs vary with consumption, but with water only 10 per cent. of the cost varies with consumption, the remainder being capital? Therefore, what relationship can water metering possibly have with controlling consumption?

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in other industries standing chargs cover the overhead and fixed costs. We are concerned about metering the consumption and we believe that it would be a far more accurate guide to measure and update consumption figures to assess whether water metering is the best way to move forward. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am aware that the Welsh Water authority is concerned about that. It has very high overhead and infrastructural costs. It is looking carefully at a form of charging that does not take into account the extent of unit consumption that other water authorities are considering.

Mr. Boswell

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be possible to start by introducing compulsory metering in new houses?

Mr. Moynihan

The simple answer is 'yes'. For that reason we have introduced an amendment to be considered during the latter stages of the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Bill currently in Committee.

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